Majestic Wine is poised to expand its specialist wine empire into Ireland, in an attempt to displace the black stuff as the nation's favourite drink.
The group, which has three outlets in France, is planning to open up to five stores, including one in Belfast. It has set its sights on Dublin, but would also consider Cork, if it can find enough suitable sites.
Tim How, the chief executive, said: "We are certainly looking but finding sites is going to be a difficult challenge." He has made a number of trips to Ireland to look at possibilities. As in Britain, he would prefer to find old garages and car showrooms that he can convert into the group's trademark warehouse format.
"The key to whether we go or not is whether we can find two or three sites in a reasonably quick time," Mr How said. "We would want good value sites with a car park on a main road location."
The company has expanded rapidly in the past few years, taking its total UK estate to 114 by opening 10 new warehouses last year. It expects to open another eight this year. It made its first overseas land-grab 18 months ago, buying three stores in Calais and Cherbourg, which are located near to the ferry and Eurotunnel terminals to capture the "booze cruise" trade.
Mr How said Ireland's palate - traditionally more partial to a pint of Guinness than glass of wine - was changing. "There is growing prosperity and an increasing interest in wine," he said. Berry Brothers and Rudd, the fine wine merchant, and Oddbins, the French-owned off licence chain, have both recently opened shops in Dublin.
Majestic, which sells wine by the case, would offer Irish shoppers the same free delivery service that it offers its UK customers, braving the tiny country lanes to deliver a case anywhere in Ireland.Reuse content